Circus family story is rewarded

Gail Speight was given second place for her book in The Alexander Henderson Award for 2009.
Gail Speight was given second place for her book in The Alexander Henderson Award for 2009. Max Fleet

TELLING the story of the Wirth family of Australian circus fame has won Bundaberg's Gail Speight second place in a national award.

The Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies announced Ms Speight had won second place in the family history award, the Alexander Henderson Award for 2009.

Ms Speight won for her book The Travelling Wirth family – A History of our Ancestors as Musicians, Miners and Wirths' Circus.

The judges said the book was “a comprehensive record of the Wirth family in Australia, set out in the form of a reference book that would be of great value to the descendants”.

Ms Speight, a descendant of the Wirth family, said yesterday she started work on research for the book in 1999 and started writing in 2002.

“It was a very long process because I had to fit it in with my life,” she said.

“It can also be quite expensive to do research.”

Ms Speight said she wrote the book because she had always had an interest in the family history, sparked by an aunt who used to tell her stories while she was growing up.

“The Wirths were well known in Australia because of the circus and I was curious about that,” she said.

“Lots of people had done research, but no-one had put it all together.”

Ms Speight said this was her first book, and she had never done any writing professionally before.

The book was self-published because she found that was the only way a family history would get published.

Ms Speight had 700 copies made, and said she had about 50 left.

The rest were given away to libraries, including the Bundaberg library, or went to other members of the family.

Ms Speight said the Wirth family was originally from the Rhineland in Germany.

After emigrating to Australia, members of the family started the circus in the early 1880s.

The circus was very popular in Australia and also toured overseas.

It closed in 1961 with the advent of TV and other entertainment options.

Circus equestrienne May Wirth was born in Bundaberg in 1894.

Ms Speight said she planned to write more books, but since she was working full time she would probably wait until she retired.

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